Wednesday, July 20, 2005


John Lennon’s song Imagine proves he is a much better song writer than a philosopher. He sings:

Imagine all the people
living life in peace

. . .

You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,

Well R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science is imagining peace with good science and hard data rather then poor philosophy and dreams.

His life professional work was uncovering the root causes of war, and Democide which is detailed on his Power Kills web site. His major thesis is that the incidence of war and governmental mass goes down with the level of actual democracy in a country.

This week on his blog Freedoms Peace he has two here and here posts about visualizing (or imaginings) this concept graphically.

This regression analysis chart shows that as freedom (x axis) increases, insecurity decreases.

A major thesis of Dr Rummel’s is the Democratic Peace - that genuinely democratic countries do not go to war with each other. (Andrew Cory at at Dean’s World provides a good short summary.) A while back I checked the data on Rummel’s web site. If one takes the strictest definition of democracy his data showed a statistical 99% confidence level for this thesis. (Actually no exceptions is 100% but I would leave room for some weird case coming up.) Depending how much doubt one would accept for the borderline cases it would be a 90 to 95% confidence level. Political Science is a social science; this level of confidence is very atypical. His data agrees with what I know and could verify on the subject. While I do not have his fondness for categorical statements, I would have to consider the Democratic Peace thesis as well established as anything in the Social Sciences and better than most.

It seems that John Lennon might have got something right.

NOTE: I decided I did not like some of my word choices and edited it, The point is the same. 07/21/05


Rodger said...

Rummel does good work and certainly the correlation between democracy and peace is strong. One prominent political scientist once declared that the democratic peace is as close to a "law" as we have in the study of international politics.

That said, the analysis is only as good as the data. There are some large known problems. Note, however, that Rummel's correlations pertain to a wider range of questions -- whether or not governments kill their people.

In any event, most of the democratic peace literature ignores covert violence. What if a democracy topples the government of another democracy? The data set is really tiny once one looks back more than a few decades in world politics. There weren't many democracies then.

What do you make of Weimar Germany? Ido Oren wrote an interesting article demonstrating that the people of Germany believed they were democratic.

The peace among great power since 1945 is over-explained: nuclear deterrence, for example, could simply be at work.

Democracies, by the way, make war with non-democracies all the time. Indeed, they make war with non-democracies more than those kinds of states do with one another. Call this the "crusading spirit," which isn't peace.

Anyway, the literature is vast and I cannot do it justice in this brief comment.

hank_F_M said...


I was going through the archives and noticed your comment.

I am familiar with the limitations of Dr Rummel’s dataset, which in fact he points out. He is also in habit of posting articles on his blog that take the alternative viewpoint. The basic “1816 to present data with 1000 dead” is the probably the best comprehensive and consistent data set we can get. More data over a larger number of international contexts would be nice. As I implied in my comments I do care for the categorical statements of some DP proponents. To claim all when it is 99 out of 100 is a false statement but 99 out of 100 is pretty good. I think that there is a sufficient case that any alternative theory needs to be tested on the 1816 to present dataset and get comparable or better results.

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